When I look out from my bedroom window in Rome I am greeted in a confronting sort of way by the flowers of my neighbors. Perfectly lovely as they are; thick abundant tubs of geraniums – in bold pinks and peachy tones – great rich heads of flowers cascading from balconies and window sills, they are the cause of my own floral inferiority complex. I ponder what the Signora across from us puts on her geraniums; how is that they are so blooming vibrant looking while mine have moments of glory only to be beset by weather, bugs or general abandon. Does she clean them daily for her husband than to sneak on some super powerful fertilizer during the night?
I love the colour palate of geranium petals; the rose-whites, fuchsias and salmon pinks, and despite it being not exactly the done thing I lopped the heads off all my geraniums for the annual Infiorata flower festival at Lubriano several weeks ago. The Infiorata, held every year on the Sunday of the Ascension – is perhaps the best loved event on the little town’s social calendar. Well, maybe not best loved – seeing as there are other feste and sagre that include wine and dancing in piazzas – but the Infiorata; where flower petals, leaves, seeds and other symbols of the springtime stretch from the Madonna del Poggio church right down along the main street, is the moment in the year when the Lubrianesi; locals and weekenders, old and young, Italian born and non, come together to celebrate their town.
Almost everyone in Lubriano has land outside the historic centre, where they have their olive trees and vines and vegetable gardens, and over the years families have planted roses of every hue to guarantee ample petals for the Infiorata. We went down into the valley to collect Ginestra, the yellow petals and heady scent that are the staple filler of almost every floral panel. It was our first Infiorata and so being a bit off with our quantities we were aided by our neighbors and their bountiful baskets of roses. It was all quite fun and something I’ll look forward to being part of every spring. For more photos of the event click here to enjoy Susan Wright’s beautiful photo essay of the event.
On the way down into the valley you we pass an orchard where a big fig tree hangs over weathered tuff walls. The orchard seems half abandoned, and when we walk past it in summer, when the plums and peaches are hanging heavy on the trees, I have that almost primeval instinct to scale the walls, but end up just plucking those figs that dangle over the wall saying ‘pick me’. There is something about foraging, about the gathering wild fruit that touches a deep seated human instinct. Some researchers think that collecting (this goes for objects too) is wired into our DNA, an instinct that can traced back to our hunter gatherer ancestors. Last summer we picked loads of hazelnuts around Lubriano and I had a jar left in my kitchen cupboard that I pulled out for this tart I made for our post-Infiorata lunch under the pergola. One of my best loved deserts of all time is my mum’s Hazelnut Torte, a sort of meringue made with crushed hazelnuts and served with just whipped cream and fresh raspberries. Nuts and seasonal fruit are such good friends, so I decided to make a Crostata – which in Italian describes any kind of sweet tart – with a frangipane filling and fresh apricots. I baked the apricots first in the oven with a little brown sugar because they needed a day or two more to be at perfect blush.
Crostate con Albicocche e Frangipane
For short crust pastry:
250 g plain flour (or a mix of plain and wholemeal)
100 g caster sugar (less if you like a less sweet pastry)
130 g butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
Pinch of salt
For the frangipane:
100 g ground almonds or hazelnuts (or mix of the two)
80 g caster sugar
100 g butter
2 small eggs
1 tbs plain flour
4 large ripe apricots, baked first or if very ripe sprinkled with brown sugar and lemon zest.
The pastry can also be made in advance. Using a food processor with blade – or by hand – mix all of the dry ingredients together then add the softened butter in pieces and then the egg yolk. Add a tablespoon of chilled water if the mixture is still crumbly. Mix until the mixture just comes together in a ball, turn out onto a floured surface and knead until it has a uniform consistency. Cover the pastry with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.
Mix frangipane ingredients together well, starting with butter and sugars and then adding eggs and almond or hazelnut meal.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
The pastry then needs to be rolled out and fitted into a lined or floured tart tin. The the frangipane can be poured into the tin, after which the apricot halves can be arranged around the tart. Bake for about 30 mins or until the pastry and frangipane are a golden brown.